Digital Learning

Cheap Thrills? There’s Nothing Clever About Piracy

You may think you are getting one over on the film industry, taking back a fraction of its box office millions, but nothing could be further from the truth says Sal McKeown.

Safer Internet Day

It’s Friday night and you want to watch that serial that was on TV last month. It’s not on Catch Up any more so now you’ll never know whodunit, or even what they did. But a quick scroll through Google shows you that it’s featured on an online platform that you have never heard of. Even better, it’s free. The actors will have already been paid for performing in it, and it’s not as if it is new, so where’s the harm? You think you are getting a bargain but you are breaking the law and could be opening yourself up to the unwanted attentions of criminals.

Piracy has increased dramatically in lockdown with loss of income for most of our creative industries including theatres, cinemas, musicians, animators and video makers. At a time when venues are closing and TV shows are postponed, it represents significant lost income for artists. 

Equity’s Distribution Services (EDS) collect over £10 million each year in secondary payments, but royalties will be down this year as consumers are choosing illegal streaming over buying. In 2019 The Intellectual Property Office issued a warning that piracy and counterfeiting costs the UK economy £9bn each year and leads to 80,500 job losses.

The scale of creative industries in the UK

Another cause for concern is that young people still at school are among those most likely to be downloading free content. Liz Bales, Chief Executive of The Industry Trust, commented: ‘Our aim is primarily to education young people, to encourage them to value content and respect the creative industry.’

Peace, love and copyright

Wiggins is a law firm focused on media, technology and inspiration. Ted Shapiro, Partner and Head of Brussels Office, believes that for creatives to thrive, ‘Peace, love and copyright is the only way!’

He claims that copyright encourages creativity by providing legal protection to books, films, songs, video games and other kinds of content. ‘It drives free expression and provides not only an incentive to create, but also a mechanism for financing, producing and distributing content. The role of a copyright lawyer is to help creators benefit from the protection that the law affords. Copyright lawyers advise creators on how to use copyright law to license and protect their content. Copyright lawyers love copyright and creativity. If we ignore copyright, we remove the incentive to create and the means for creators to benefit from their creativity.  We all lose out if that happens.’ 

Education pack

Media Smart is the not-for-profit education arm of the UK advertising industry. They have been working with The Industry Trust for IP Awareness, the Motion Picture Association (MPA) and the Intellectual Property Office to develop a teaching pack for KS3 focusing on film and TV piracy. It is called Piracy: What’s the Big Deal? and teaches 11-14 year olds what copyright is, and why it matters to writers, artists, film makers and other creatives. It also shows the risks to downloaders and the links to organised crime.

Rachel Barber-Mack, Director of Media Smart, believes that this is the crucial time to educate young people about piracy, ‘a subject that is ever more important during COVID19 – when kids are online more.’

The pack consists of a five minute film featuring a discussion between Luke Franks, known for his appearances on BBC1’s The Voice and later The X Factor for ITV and Sky One presenter Jacqueline Sheppard. Alongside this are a PowerPoint presentation, teachers’ note and worksheets.

Although tagged as a PHSE resource, Piracy: What’s the Big Deal? could be used by teachers in English, Media Studies, Citizenship, Philosophy for Children and assemblies.

The aim is to get students to see the impact of piracy and to assess how serious the consequences might be, both for creative industries and for them personally.

Why do we download copyrighted content?

Piracy is a copyright issue where people download copyright protected items such as images, songs and movies, programs, games software and even computer operating systems.

A blog post published by the University of Delaware looks at our ambivalent attitude to piracy. Called Piracy: Helping Or Harming The World?  says: ‘Almost 70% of consumers do not see a problem with piracy, and it has become such a common thing that by 2011 approximately 22% of all global internet bandwidth was used for online piracy.’

Most people do not see it as theft. Partly it is because we think of it as a victimless crime – not like stealing a car or money. It is so easy and quick and effortless, just a couple of clicks and it’s done. It is also a grey area as these arguments suggest:

  • If I can listen to a song on YouTube, why can’t I download it and listen to it whenever I want?
  • I am just making a copy for my own use. Is that any different from photocopying a couple of pages from a book for my own purpose?
  • Isn’t it up to the government and the police to remove it? If it’s there online why can’t I use it?
  • In the UK a person is guilty of theft if they ‘dishonestly appropriate property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it’, but my downloads don’t stop others enjoying a concert, a video or a football match.

The temptation to get something for nothing is compounded by the speed and availability of digital. We know that the quality of pirated resources is poor. Issues range from the action on the screen being played back to front, fuzzy images, poor lip synching, variable quality sound, frozen screens and annoying pop up adverts. Set against this is the expectation that if content is available somewhere in the world, it should be universally available.

Media Smart’s research says : ‘Teenage concerns about fitting in and being up to date mean they are willing to put up with these issues to watch new content.’

Risks and penalties

A major risk to young people is opening up their device to malware and viruses which can make it vulnerable to hackers. This is one of the key areas stressed in Piracy: What’s the Big Deal?

Most people think it will never happen to them so the scenarios show the personal cost of malware.

One of the powerful deterrents in most crimes is the fear of getting caught. Most consumers don’t know anyone who has been caught and so not only is it a ‘victimless crime’ in their minds, or a Robin Hood approach to redistributing resources to the poor,  but also it is seen by them as no-risk. However, this is clearly not the case as a cursory search of the web reveals.

FACT stands for Federation Against Copyright Theft. It was formed in 1983 to protect the content, product and interests of the film and television industries. Regarded as leaders in IP protection, FACT also investigates fraud and cybercrime. Its mission statement says: ‘Our ethos is to protect, prevent, detect, deter, disrupt and dismantle, always keeping in mind the ultimate sanctions of criminal prosecution and civil litigation.’

They work with police forces and recent examples of ‘deterring and disrupting’ include warnings issued by Norfolk and Suffolk Constabulary Cyber Intelligence and Serious Organised Crime Directorate, to subscribers of a service called GE Hosting. It stated that using these services was a crime carrying a maximum sentence of up to five years imprisonment and/or a fine.

They work closely with other investigating agencies and prosecute violations of copyright law including film and DVD piracy, and illegal downloading of content. These crimes are covered by acts of Parliament including:

  • Video Recordings Act 1984
  • Trade Marks Act 1994
  • Copyright Designs & Patent Act 1988
  • Conspiracy contrary to common law

Piracy can be big business

FACT also researches and produces reports such as that give insights into the size and scale of illegal operations: ‘Site operators who run streaming sites – making live content such as sports events available illegally – often steal innocent people’s credit card details first, so they can access hundreds of premium channels under those people’s names and cover their own tracks. They then put these streams online for their customers to watch and make money from them.’

‘It’s obviously very tempting for people to think they are getting a bargain,’ said Police Scotland, ‘but it’s important to remember that there are organised criminals behind these fraudulent schemes, often supporting and funding other more serious crime, such as human trafficking and drugs, so people need to be aware of that. Purchasing a ‘so called bargain’ may lead to a visit from the police at your door so think twice before saying yes.’

There has been a big crackdown on illegal streaming of live football in the last few years. In March 2019, three men from Coventry who sold illegal Premier League streams to more than 1,000 pubs, clubs and homes were jailed. Steven King, Paul Rolston and Daniel Malone were given a combined total of 17 years, some of the longest sentences ever for piracy crimes. They made more than £5m from their websites.

Kieron Sharp, the CEO of anti-piracy organisation Fact, said: ‘It’s about having to pay for a product that we all enjoy watching and want to see. The money that’s in the game has made the product what it is. If the money is not paid back by those who are watching it then we won’t be seeing the football and other activities in future.’

The Media Smart competition

All you have to do is send MediaSmart your pupils’ creative ideas on how to dissuade their peers from engaging in piracy by designing a social media video. Entries can be a storyboard OR film.

Send entries by 1 April 2021 to be entered into their prize draw – winners will be selected from all eligible entries received and chosen at random.


  • Winning Prize – £2,000 worth of film or media equipment for your school (tell us what your school needs and we will buy it)!
  • All students in the winning group will receive a download voucher for a HD rental from video-on-demand platform Rakuten TV
  • Two Runner Up Prizes – £500 worth of film or media equipment for your school (tell us what your school needs and we will buy it)!
  • All students in the winning group will receive a download voucher for a HD rental from Rakuten TV
  • Early Bird Prizes – The first five group entries that we receive from any school will receive a download voucher for a HD rental from video-on-demand platform Rakuten TV.

Students will also be given the opportunity to create a short anti-piracy campaign in the form of a storyboard or a one-minute film. This element will run as a competition with schools being given the chance to win £2,000 worth of media equipment for their schools and prizes from digital entertainment retailer, Rakuten TV.

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